At some point, then, you would expect to see states with a denser population of Democrats have higher vaccination rates than states that are heavily Republican. FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver speculates that this theoretical point may be upon us.
But is it? It’s hard to say.
That’s in part because registration data are a bit wonky. There are more Republicans in any state than show up on the voter rolls because not everyone registers to vote or maintains their registration. (Are unregistered Republicans still Republicans? We’ll leave that to political semanticists to debate.) In some states, there isn’t registration by party, meaning that the issue becomes still harder to resolve.
Using numbers and projections from L2, a political data firm, we came up with an estimate of the density of Republicans in each state. If we compare that figure with the number of people receiving at least one dose of a vaccine, we see a pattern: more densely Republican states tend to have a lower percentage of their population that’s received a dose.
That already weak link almost completely evaporates when we look at those who’ve been fully vaccinated, according to Post data.
There are probably a few reasons for this.
One is that older Americans were both more eager to get the vaccine and more likely to have already received it. Polling conducted by Marist University for NPR and PBS NewsHour show not only that Republican men are more skeptical of the vaccine, but that most of those over age 75 have already received it. That’s a group that tends to be more Republican.
Another reason, though, is that little dot at the lower left corner of the two graphs above. That’s D.C., where the vaccination numbers look remarkably low. Without D.C., the correlation between full vaccination and Republican density more than doubles. (Why is D.C. so low? The District says it’s complicated.)
If we look at that question in a different way, D.C.’s effect is more obvious. The District has a remarkably low density of Republican voters, putting it all the way to the left on the graph below. Except for that, there’s an obvious link between Republican density and vaccine uptake.
We also took the L2 data and overlapped it with that Marist poll to derive an estimate for the percentage of the population that is probably unlikely to want to get the vaccine. (The method for this is explained below.) There’s essentially no correlation between that figure and the percentage of a state that has already received the vaccine, which is likely a function of the fact that those who do want the vaccine have rushed to get it where possible.
It’s the gap in the graph below that’s interesting: those who aren’t hostile to getting the vaccine but who haven’t yet.
To the original point, a lot of the states at the top of that graph — the ones with the highest density of completed vaccinations — are Democratic. A lot at the bottom are heavily Republican.
It’s interesting to note that the density of skeptics generally falls into a narrow range: between 17 and 36 percent of the population, with the median percentage landing at 29 percent. Many of the states with the highest estimated skepticism are also relatively sparsely populated, so the density of non-skeptics nationally falls at somewhere around 72 percent in our estimate — above the range some experts think is necessary to reach herd immunity.
There’s another factor at play here, too. Among many groups in Marist’s poll, skepticism declined from December to March. It may also be the case that while more Republican states embrace the vaccine less eagerly, they embrace it more robustly than the polling would suggest.
How we estimated vaccine skepticism: We combined L2 data on party splits by gender with Marist’s polling breakdown for those same groups. This is only a rough estimate, failing to consider state-level variations in the polling.
Lenny Bronner contributed to this report.